I’ve been trying to invite some of my Roman Catholic friends to attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy during the Easter season. I think that it’s really important for Roman Catholics to experience the traditions of their Eastern brothers and sisters. I grew up hearing my dad say (quoting one of his seminary professors) that Roman Catholics should attend a Byzantine Divine Liturgy so that they would understand what was going on when they got to heaven. I wouldn’t go around saying that to my friends, but I do have a few reasons why it is important for Roman Catholics to experience a Byzantine Liturgy.
The word “catholic” means universal. The Catholic Church is not meant to be a set of cookie-cutter people who always look and act the same. Rather, it is intended to be a sign of what St. John Paul II called “diversity in unity” to the world. We as Eastern Catholics are called to a very present part of that. All Catholics (really, all Christians) are called to be lights of a unity through faith and love. To do this, we must come to understand the different branches of the Catholic Church. It is not enough for a Roman Catholic to only attend the Roman Catholic Mass or for a Byzantine Catholic to only attend the Byzantine Liturgy. We must partake in each other’s services. We must interact lovingly and respectfully with Catholics who are not from our Church.
Our Churches are not only for our own people but are also for any of our fellow Americans who are attracted to our traditions which show forth the beauty of the universal Church and the variety of its riches.
-Archbishop Joseph Tawil in “The Courage to be Ourselves”
It has been over 950 years since the Great Schism. We need to work towards a loving unity between East and West. Now, the average layperson can’t influence great change, but we can work towards better understanding among ourselves. It is important to know and understand one another’s traditions. The best way to understand the Eastern traditions is to encounter them. To that end, I would recommend that any Roman Catholic who is able visit an Eastern Catholic parish for a Divine Liturgy. (See the bottom of this article for a list of links to some of the American Eastern Catholic Eparchies’ websites.) You can’t really start to understand or appreciate something until you encounter it.
No witness perhaps better brings to light the Catholicity of the Church of God in a more admirable manner than the unique homage which is rendered to it by the differing ceremonies and the noble ancient languages all made more venerable by their use by the Apostles and Fathers.
-Pope Leo XIII “Orientalium Dignitas”
If you encounter the traditions of the other Catholic Churches, you’re doing what Jesus wanted you to do and what people like St. John Paul II thought you should do. On the eve of his Passion, Jesus prayed the unity of his followers. He prayed not only for the twelve good Jewish boys who were about to turn the world on its ear, but he also prayed for all who would come after them. If we only focus on our own traditions, we are not fully embracing that unity. Jesus prayed that we would be one as the Trinity is one. (John 17:20-23) Jesus didn’t pray that we would ignore one another or exclude one another. He did not pray that we would criticize one another or force others to assimilate to our traditions. Rather, he prayed that we would be one as the Trinity is one so that the world will know that the Father had sent the Son into the world. We need to embrace one another.
If those two can hang out, so can we. Those two became friends when they were both in Buenos Aires. Now, they’re the heads of their respective Churches. They still get on with one another. Friendships between Christians of different traditions can be a sign of unity. We need to view each other as brothers and not as competition. We don’t have to agree on everything, but we do need to love one another. Just because you pray the Rosary and I don’t, that doesn’t make us enemies. You may say that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son; I do not say that. There are divisions between us, but we also have a great deal of common ground. What unites us is far greater than what divides us. We both believe that Jesus Christ is physically present in the Eucharist. We are able to receive the Eucharist in one another’s churches even if it doesn’t look or taste the same. We all believe that Jesus Christ is the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the Messiah who came into the world for the salvation of the world. We need to embrace that while celebrating our differences.
The Sacred Congregation has for its office and duty to uphold and foster as much as possible the venerable Oriental liturgies and to preserve them in their integrity and purity.
-Pope Benedict XV
So go to an Eastern Catholic Church. Heck, go to an Orthodox Church. Experience the liturgy. Ask questions. It will be different from what you’re used to, but that is okay. Going to a Roman Mass is different from what I’m used to, but I still go to Roman Masses when that is my best option or when it is an opportunity to support a friend in doing something beautiful.
Here’s the bottom line. Jesus wants his Church to be one. He wants his Church to reflect the diverse unity of the Trinity. There is great beauty in our unity, and it pains the Father when we are divided from one another. I can honestly say that the disunity in our Churches causes me pain. John Paul II spoke of the need for the Church to breathe with her two lungs-East and West. Embrace these two lungs. Learn about your brothers and sisters. Come to an Eastern Liturgy. I can promise you that you will not regret it. You might even love it. St. Vladimir’s emissaries who visited the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople said that during the Divine Liturgy they knew not whether they were on heaven or on earth. Please come taste heaven on earth.
This is the website for Annunciation Byzantine Catholic Church in Homer Glen. It is a beautiful church and a wonderful parish.
I included an image of St. Elias the Prophet’s building and a video filmed in that building. However, this building burned down about two years ago, and the parish is in the process of building a new Temple. However, that parish has one of my favorite YouTube channels, which happens excellent for learning more about Eastern Catholicism.